Jonah, the thing I can’t wrap my head around is not the firecracker detonators (which the guy who sold them to Shahzad said “wouldn’t damage a watermelon“); or the propane tanks with the unopened valves (safety features on propane tanks made within the last decade or so won’t allow the flow of gas unless a receptacle is physically connected to them). No, what really gets me is the two clocks and wire leads attached to. . . absolutely nothing.
If we’re operating under the assumption that the firecrackers were supposed to ignite the propane gas (not) leaking into the truck, which was in turn supposed to burn the gasoline and ignite the fertilizer, then there is absolutely no place in the circuit for a couple of digital alarm clocks with some Radio Shack wires hooked up (?) to them. Even if the bomb were rigged to a timing device, it would need an explosive detonator that could respond to an electrical signal (off the top of my head, a model rocket engine or something). This device had no such element.
No amount of stupid accounts for this, if you ask me. It’s the kind of thing that only a few too many action movies and a big disconnect from reality can explain.
Does this mean that Shahzad was living in a fantasy world? Does it mean that — to use some psycho-babble — this wasn’t terrorism so much as a “terroristic gesture”? Does it mean he wanted to get caught? (When he was arrested on the Emirates flight, Shahzad reportedly told authorities “I was expecting you. Are you NYPD or FBI?”). Or was he a sincere, true-blue jihadist who was just incompetent, perhaps the best the Tehrik-e-Taliban — harried on the ground by the Pakistani army and from above by the drones — could come up with?
Don’t get me wrong. If the bomb, or even some element of it, had combusted, it would have likely killed innocent civilians. So this guy is a terrorist. I’m just not sure what else he is.